How I got lost in the Catacombs of Chicago en route from the airport. Walking.

The title of this post was going to be something like: Chicago on the cheap: how to get from the airport to your hotel for $5. However, as you can tell from the actual title, things did not go exactly as planned on my journey; while I arrived at my destination eventually, the road was a long and sketchy one.

Hopefully I can save you a similar fate.

Here’s the story:

I’m in Chicago this weekend with my awesome friend Ginger, who is resourceful, adventurous, determined, and up for almost anything. Aside from Josh, she is my absolute favorite person to travel with; we are similarly wired. So when she informed me that based on her research, our best transportation option from the airport to our hotel was the CTA Blue Line train, it sounded good to me.

Screen shot 2014-05-23 at 6.01.31 PM

Ginger called our hotel (the Radisson Blu Aqua) ahead of time to ask which CTA stop was closest, and the person she spoke to recommended the Clark and Lake station. This ended up not being entirely true. The stop was closest if we didn’t want to transfer…but in reality it’s a good three-quarters of a mile away. The closest stop – for real – is the East Randolph Street station, which is one-quarter of a mile away. 

Because I am happy to walk most anywhere, and because I didn’t second-guess Ginger’s info, I simply jotted down the station name and was done with it. I got off my flight and found the O’Hare station at the airport, which is located in the lower level concourse.

It was really easy to locate. Signs and arrows point the way from baggage claim.



The station is located at the end of a walkway.


You can buy a Ventra Card with fare or a 1-day, 3-day or 7-day unlimited ride pass using cash (machines do not give change) or credit/debit cards at the station. If you want to skip the line, you can also order a Ventra card online ahead of time and have it sent to your house in advance of your trip.IMG_2190

The normal travel time on the Blue Line from O’Hare to downtown is 40-45 minutes. The Blue Line trains run 24 hours a day, seven days a week; and all trains leaving the O’Hare station go through downtown.

Getting on the train was uneventful, and the ride was fine. However, as soon as I got off at the Clark and Lake station, my troubles began.

For one thing, I had actually checked a bag. Yes, I was wheeling around a full-sized suitcase.

Screen shot 2014-05-25 at 7.49.04 PMWhy? Why? Well, I was trying to be prepared. I had learned from my previous trip to Seattle that if I am going to pop into any boutiques, thrift shops, or other establishments where I might walk out with an article of clothing, I should bring a bigger bag. So, I was lugging a suitcase in addition to a stupid hot pink two-wheel mini carryon thing from Bennetton.

I kid you not.

Screen shot 2014-05-25 at 7.44.38 PM

Oh, and I had a bag. My regular bag.

hello lovely bag

So I was carrying the pink carryon, not rolling it, because if I rolled it, it would start to get speed wobbles, and then I would have to stop and get it squared away again before I continued on. It was just easier to carry it, even though it weighed a ton. I was also carrying my bag. And I was rolling the suitcase.

It’s cold. And it’s windy. And it’s kind of a long walk from the Clark and Lake station to the Radisson Blu.

So somehow I was more focused on my multiple bags than on my route, and I took a wrong turn. And I ended up here:

I was somehow underneath the street. And somehow by the time I realized I had made a mistake, it would have taken me longer to retrace my steps and fix it.

This is an aerial view (taken later) of the scene.

IMG_2235So I kept on going…until I got to these stairs.


I’m scared of heights, so looking at these stairs from the bottom up was not a good view. But I really, really didn’t want to walk all the way back to where I had first taken the wrong turn, a quarter mile back, so I took a deep breath and started climbing….but I got half of the way up and I froze. I had made the mistake of looking down. The stairs were the kind that you could see through, which did not help at all. So I just stood there.

Luckily, a very kind man came along and offered to carry my suitcases the rest of the way up. I gratefully took him up on it.

I haven’t been so glad to see a hotel in a long time.



So clearly, I made it. But it wasn’t pretty.

However, it is technically possible to take the CTA train from the airport to downtown for $5, and for some people it is easy.

Have you ever tried it? And am I alone here in getting lost underneath Chicago?


  1. Okay, first I’m putting on my mom voice here. “Kendra, didn’t I tell you to use one of those very small, across the chest purses when you travel? Safer and much easier on your shoulder. If you must you can pack your “pretty” purse to take out after arriving at your destination.”

    Okay, mom voice off.

    How scary. When I was younger I tried anything to save a few bucks, but I’m in my feisty 60s now and my husband has really bad knees and now I throw money at situations to stay safe, that means overpriced cabs if I have to.

    In fact I really want to spend some time in New York City but I’ve watched so many reruns of Law and Order I haven’t yet built up the courage. 🙁

    • Points Pixie says

      Anne – You are so right!! I really need to get a small travel bag…and I’m pretty sure you’ve told me this before 😉 I need to listen!!

      I’m headed to NYC in a few months so maybe my posts will inspire you. I promise to get a small purse before then!

  2. Avoid lower wacker drive

  3. I would have taken uberX after the getting of on your first at Clark and Lake. That would have cost you another 5 bucks but well worth it!

  4. …and if this did not happen to you, you would not have had anything nearly as interesting about which to write.

    Experiences such as this are what travel is all about. I have had my share…

    • Points Pixie says

      Brian – Ha ha! You’re right. As I was walking along I was thinking…welp, at least this will make a good story. 😉

  5. pinkisnice says

    What a rocky welcome. Can’t wait to hear how the rest of the weekend turned out!

  6. *knock on wood* I’ve never had trouble with getting lost after taking the CTA, however on my last trip to Chicago I did end up underneath Michigan Ave without intending too (like a very long underpass). That was weird. I just kept going until I saw the stairs leading back to the surface.

  7. All I can think of is the scene in Blue Brothers near the end…
    Elwood: “This is definitely Lower Wacker Drive!”

    At least you were near (and probably didn’t even know it) the Billy Goat to grab a cheezborger!

  8. Sounds,awful. I agree w Anne on the purse! I often will pack it.

    Under the street at night does not sound good… Reminds me when I was under the street once in Beijing, dark and scary!

    glad you survived. I agree w Keith, Uber to the rescue!

  9. Cool trick that I learned in Chicago this past weekend regarding the CTA…you do NOT need to buy a Ventra card if you have a contactless credit card like the Starwood Preferred Guest Amex. You will know if your credit card is contactless because it will have a radio-wave symbol on the back or front that looks similar to the RSS feed icon. Anyways, all you have to do is tap your credit card in the same place on the turnstile where you would put the Ventra card – it will automatically deduct the $2.25 fare, saving you the $0.75 surcharge of purchasing a single Ventra ticket from the machine. See

  10. @Erik – Great tip! I carry a Ventra Card, but good info to tell visitors who will only use it once or twice.

    I haven’t tried it with Google Wallet or Isis Mobile Wallet, but Ventra website says they can be used too! So this takes into account some cards w/o the 4 bar wireless icon:
    “A mobile phone wallet, such as Google WalletTM payment service and ISIS Wallet TM, allows you to store credit or debit card account information in your mobile phone and select one card to be charged whenever the mobile phone is used to make a purchase. You can use your mobile phone wallet to pay for fares on Ventra.”

    [And I think you’d get 2.14x the UR points with Chase SP, as the CTA is categorized as “GROUND TRANSPORTATION SERVICES – 4111” :)]


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